Synergia is a cyberpunk yuri visual novel that ticks all the boxes for successful franchises in the genre – a mysterious lead character with a secret past, an oppressive government ruling an unequal neon city and more robots than you can shake a stick at – but it never hits any of the impressive highs of the series’ it’s trying to emulate.
Sharing more than a few similarities with the anime series Ghost in the Shell for its setting and main character was a wise move for rookie developer Radi Art, giving it credibility, but Synergia soon manages to establish its own identity with deep storytelling and character relationships.
A disgruntled veteran cop, Cila, plays the heroine stuck in a rut, until she is given a new house android, Mara, to replace her corrupted one. This curious robot not only has human-like consciousness and an intelligence that was intentionally removed from previous generations, but she is free of the rules that androids are bound by to protect their owners. Despite being prohibited by law, Cila starts to develop feelings for Mara, which changes her life dramatically and sets her on a dangerous path with the powerful entities who are pursuing one possessing singularity.
With drama, a love interest and a detailed world, What’s there not to like?
Popping the initial excitement of your shiny neon video game is a user interface that’s about as effective as a book with a broken spine, dropping its pages all over the floor, like a discarded Testing department email. The most frustrating of which is that you can’t even do the most basic requirement of any visual novel – stop the text from automatically scrolling. Slowing the text speed improves the situation somewhat but is helped little by the unreadable ‘history’ page in the start menu. Adding to the list of presumably easy issues to fix, are the choice selection screens that have a counterintuitively dark coloration for your highlighted choice, making you choose the wrong option more than once.
Once you have figured out how to work around these issues, the story begins to suck you in, introducing you to its fleshed-out world with a great human/android dynamic and well-written characters.
Aiding your immersion into the world is the dreary synth audio soundtrack that adds atmosphere and weight to each scene, and even though some tracks threaten overuse, they provide an effective reinforcement for the expectation of the emotion and mood of each scene.
Unfortunately, the visuals aren’t able to complement or match the quality of the audio, however, with distinct differences in quality. The location backgrounds and shots of certain scenes largely suffice but there are key scenes with characters that can barely be made out and character designs used during conversations, especially Mara’s, that are just plain awful in comparison to the design shown in other scenes.
The saving grace of the game – the discourse between characters – builds up a picture of the complex and dark atmosphere hanging over the city; discontent with androids is being fostered by an anti-android government while inequality worsens and rebels and warring with the empire. These tensions rise consistently as the story progresses and develops an intrigue within the player for how the story will conclude.
The narrative gives you 3 choices in order to affect the game and ultimately set the story’s route for either the good or bad ending. While it’s not an overwhelming amount of choice afforded to the player, they involve interactions with one of the most interesting characters in the game – a hacker by the name of SAL. Like the reference to the similarly named AI in 2001: A Space Odyssey, you aren’t sure of his motivations nor where your choices will take you.
The uncertainty of where the story will head drives the narrative and keeps you interested – until an anticlimactic finish that refuses to take any risks whatsoever lets the air out of the balloon. Based on how they build up the main character and her capabilities, it should be full of fireworks and gut-wrenching moral choices but instead concludes with endings that are not only inconsistent with character motivations, but are unnecessarily optimistic, as if planning for a sequel, but at the same time leaves you with no intriguing loose ends or seeds of excitement for a potential sequel.
Synergia is a cyberpunk powder keg thriller that refuses to blow, with a context that simmers without ever committing to anything of real substance over its 2 endings and average 8-hour runtime. So while the relationships and character development represent a success for the title, the interface issues and disappointing endings render it little more than an above-average visual novel.